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Act of War: Direct Action; Oxford English Dictionary 3.1; Registry Repair Wizard 2005

Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page F08


Games based directly on books are a rarity in the game industry, but this one shouldn't be much of a surprise: A lot of things blow up in the novel of the same name, by best-selling military thriller author Dale Brown. The book imagines a scenario in which oil companies support terrorism to keep oil prices climbing around the world; the game is being released at the same time as the book, another rarity in the industry.

The OED on CD: Many, many words' worth.

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The game kicks off with a series of terrorist attacks on targets in the District, San Francisco, London and elsewhere. These go beyond ordinary suicide bombings to encompass the use of tanks and antiaircraft missiles, all unloaded by the ton off ships in our largely undefended ports. You play an army major in charge of Task Force Talon, an elite group of soldiers and technicians trained in the same hit-and-run tactics as the terrorists; the fight plays out in real-time battles, with steps in between to build most of the units you'll need (in some cases, special hardware, such as carrier-based fighter jets, are provided for you).

Act of War is far more story-driven than most real-time strategy titles, with news reports and mission briefings to move the plot along. Cinematic interludes precede and follow each mission and do a great deal to set the mood. Watching the evening news document a ruined San Francisco after one of your first battles is disheartening yet motivating at the same time. These story elements keep you from getting lost as to what to do next, even while you work to unravel a rather tangled international conspiracy.

Detailed graphics give a realistic depiction of each city you battle over. Not only can you can zoom in down to street level to watch buildings explode from a point close enough to feel the heat -- you can even read individual, accurate highway signs pointing the way to the I-395 off-ramp. -- John Breeden II

Win 98 or newer, $50


The complete, digitized version of the authoritative dictionary of the English language turns out to be one of those rare, but startlingly clear demonstrations of how technology may yet be a good thing after all. Instead of dropping $900 and sacrificing most of a bookcase for the full, 20-volume paper edition of the OED, you can get the same information neatly packed onto a single CD. (It's still not cheap, at $295; pause to consider the merits of spending a third to half your PC's value on one software title.)

The reasons for preferring paper become more obscure the more one uses this software. An array of straightforward search tools mean simply looking up the definition of a word is only one -- make that, one rather prosaic -- path into a massive store of information about the evolution of the English language. For example, you can learn when various words popped into circulation, or tally up how many entries cite one author as having first used a word a certain way in print.

If you just need to know what a word means, you would save $295 by using a free Web site such as Dictionary.com -- or Oxford University Press's own AskOxford.com. But if you want the thorough background investigation, one that X-rays a word down to the atomic level, only the OED will do. Look up the word "wallet," for example: Dictionary.com yields a terse sentence and a note indicating possible Middle English and Old North French origins. The OED, however, explains how authors such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens and Thackeray used the word, then reveals when it was first applied to a folded-up leather item in one's back pocket.

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